MANDALAY ROYAL PALACE
Palace as seen from the street. It was a long walk to the front gate.
One of the great things about being back at home in Washington State, between trips to “…those faraway places with strange sounding names…” is checking my memory from childhood, and often discovering my memories are completely faulty, or mixed up.
I thought the phrase, “On the Way to Mandalay” was one of those “Road” musicals with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, like “The Road to Bali.” Instead it is the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and is a reminiscence by a British soldier who served in Mandalay. Not so romantic now.
Still…I was looking forward to seeing Mandalay because of the beauty of Burmese pagodas, and its history of royalty. I had been told that there wasn’t much of the colonial era left to see in the city, but I found plenty of interesting sites and little adventures. Jim and Janet from Australia piqued my interest in seeing other places in Burma, and since my trip is coming to a close I feel the need to sprint so I can cover more ground. I want to see Lake Inle, the second largest lake in Burma, and Bagan with its two thousand temples.
It wasn't as impressive as the monasteries and temples.
a hotel in Mandalay, The Duo Swan. This caused a bit of confusion with the shuttle driver. I was the last passenger in the van, and he took me to the Swan, which is right across from the Palace. I had booked on line so I knew what the hotel looked like. When he drove up to the Swan I knew it was the wrong hotel. I had to show him the address and the name, Duo
Swan, in my journal, and he seemed a little annoyed at the confusion. He was probably just as anxious to get home as I was.
The hotel is brand new, but the street was still under construction and looked dismal. A Volkswagen would disappear in the muddy ruts. The staff was super anxious to please, and my room was nice. I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was eat. Oops! The hotel was so new the kitchen wasn’t finished yet. The desk ordered a trike with Grab, to take me to a restaurant. We must have passed thirty restaurants and finally came to an outdoor restaurant the taxi driver thought I would like. I bought a pork skewer (satay) from
The rooms were more elaborate than the buildings.
a barbecue out back, but there was no menu with pictures and no one spoke English. Finally I walked over to two business men and asked if they would order veggies and fried noodles for me, which they did.
The next day from my third floor hotel window I watched the monks walk single file along the street behind the hotel, each with a large pot, begging food; families and businesses in the neighborhood fill the pots. I spent the day conferring with the hotel tour director, planning excursions to Bagan and Lake Inle, and editing photos and two blogs about the Solomon Islands. I took another taxi to a nice restaurant with menus, and ordered tea leaf salad, calabash soup, mint and lime Jell-O and a small palm candy, like a maple sugar crystal; just right for an after dinner sweet.
Travel day arrived and I packed a small bag and left the rest of my luggage in the hotel storage room. This might be my last chance to see Mandalay so I got a taxi to go see Mandalay Palace and the local Pagoda. Instead the taxi driver dropped me off at an expat bar/café, saying
It was difficult to photograph some of the Royal Collection. Objects were too tall, or too long, and there was glare from the lighting.
I could walk to the Palace from here. I ordered lime juice and steak with a mushroom gravy. It was very good and I amused myself watching a table full of young ex-pats flirting with each other and enjoying their lunch. Then I sauntered out into the heat and picked my way through the parked cars to the street, intending to walk to the Palace. I discovered that the entrances I thought I saw were illusions…A high fence and a moat guarded the royal grounds. It was half a mile in the heat to the main entrance. A young man motored up and parked his motorcycle and offered to give me a ride to the Palace and the Pagoda at the top of Mandalay Hill, but I shook my head and told him I don’t ride motorbikes. Almost immediately a slim older man crossed the street and approached. He said he had a cab and could take me sightseeing for $15. “Deal,” I said.
We got to his van and his college age son was with him. What a relief to just be driven up to the Mandalay Palace. I got out and purchased a bottle of water, removed
Everything is beautifully and carefully crafted.
my shoes and passed through the gate.
I was interested in taking photos of the men in ‘skirts’ without being obtrusive. My daughter teaches adults and I thought they might be surprised that in many warmer climates, men wear sarongs. I got the taxi driver to pose by the vehicle, but taking photos of local men was trickier.
The Palace looks imposing from a distance, but I was a little disappointed when I got closer. I discovered that the grounds were not well tended and the buildings looked like they were made of plywood and many of them needed painting.
Wikipedia explains that the original palace was used as a supply depot by the Japanese in World War II, and Allied bombing burnt it to the ground. Reconstruction was begun in 1989 using traditional and modern techniques and materials, including concrete and corrugated roofing…the original was built entirely of teak. Only two kings ruled from here. The last king had only daughters so there was no heir, signalling the end of a dynasty. The throne rooms and galleries were decorated more richly, but looked a bit insubstantial; I realized later that it was partly because the buildings
I enjoyed seeing the clothing and headwear.
were open air; of course, it is a tropical climate. There were many photos and memorabilia of the royal family; also there were mannequins dressed in clothing showing their rank, as well as furniture, carriages, sculptures and other art work.
My driver then took me to the Golden Palace Monastery and the Kuthodaw Pagoda with the World’s Largest Book. I felt lucky to have hired him. The Book was even more impressive than the name implies. There are 729 “kyauksa gu” or inscription caves, each holding a marble slab inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tripitaka, the entire teaching of Buddha. While reading about the Pagoda I learned that it was looted during the occupation and even the gold highlights of the carved print was scraped off and carried away, as well as all the bells from each “cave.” It is a sad testament to soldiering. My driver told me several monks have memorized the entire book.
A bus was coming to the hotel to pick me up for my trip to Bagan, and I was nervous about being late, but the taxi driver assured me we had time to get to the
These gentlemen were a real bargain. And they didn't mind posing in their longyi (sarongs).
Pagoda on Mandalay Hill, so we were off. It was a long way up the hill, which is often walked by pilgrims. I was glad to be in the van. When we got to the top I got out, bought a ticket and was ushered to a room with an escalator…I believe there were three of them. Tourists must take off their shoes and ride these very steep escalators up three or four floors to the pagoda, barefoot – again! I think this was the most frightening experience in Burma. I could envision toes snagging as I got on and off.
This pagoda was a delight with great views of the surrounding city and river and many Buddha statues, lots of gilt and even a small street of vendors. I had a good look, and then, feeling pressed for time, I went back down to the parking lot in an elevator. My driver was waiting. Since he picked me up near the Palace, he didn’t know how far it was to my hotel, or the route. He did his best, but we were late.
I had indeed missed the bus, but the driver of the excursion bus promised
MINIATURE OF WORLD'S LARGEST BOOK - KUTHODAW PAGODA
729 shrines, called "gu" in Burmese (translates to cave), each holds one page of the Tripitaka, the entire teaching of Budhha.
to return for me after he had picked up everybody else. I grabbed some snacks and sat down to wait. Once I was safely on the bus to Bagan, I learned that we had to transfer to another; it took a while as we all had to show passports and fill in forms. It was a long (7 hour), painful bus ride and scary, driving in the dark. I had to take another bus for the last fifteen minutes because my hotel was off the beaten path. Pagodas glowed, looming up in the darkness as we drove. They dotted the landscape on every side.
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